From the initial planning for this book, the intent was not
to set forth one normative Lutheran approach, against which other
approaches could summarily be dismissed as "inferior." Nor was it
to suggest that there are no distinctive commonalities and emphases
among those whose moral life has been shaped by Lutheran theology,
centered in the gospel. The project itself was inspired, in large
part, by conversations at annual gatherings of Lutheran ethicists
that began in the early 1990s, in which we have risked sharing our
convictions about the distinctiveness of Lutheran ethics, and from
which has emerged a growing and maturing sense of the "substance"
or spirit (even the Holy Spirit) that connects us as Lutherans
studying, teaching, and ministering in quite different contexts.
This continues to draw us back together each January, in expanding
numbers (if interested, contact the Department of Studies).
 I will not presume to respond to the reviewers' specific
critiques of what individual authors propose; they can speak for
themselves. Instead, in light of the reviewers' overall comments, I
will reflect on the implications of this volume as a whole for a
theological/ecclesial matter that continues to haunt us as
Lutherans, as well as other denominations. Whereas George Forell
and Gilbert Meilaender are wary of the "weakness" or
"instabilities" of collections of authors with different
perspectives, Elizabeth Purdum, Mary Solberg, and Franklin Sherman
express appreciation for the diversity here, sensing this is not a
disparate collection of individual voices but authors who are
interactive and in communion, though not necessarily in agreement,
with one another. I concur with the latter view, privileged as I
was to work closely with the authors as a group and sense how much
they learned from and grew to appreciate each other. They nuanced
their writings differently because of their interactions with one
another. This is evident, for example, in the closing section of
the "Table Talk," as well as their ongoing conversations with one
another in the asterisked endnotes (which they corrected and
reworked more than once).
 A common tendency, when differences arise among Lutherans,
for example, has been to engage in what can amount to theological
"warfare." After all, theological matters are life and death
matters for Lutherans! They often have been willing to "go to the
mat," whether the questions be over a third use of the law or
recognition of an historic episcopate. Struggles over which
interpretation or position will triumph have often erupted into
power struggles that result in silencing some and/or forming a new
Lutheran church. Unfortunately that has tended to be the Lutheran
way of dealing with differences, infused also with a dominant
northern European, patriarchal ethos.
 In contrast, as James Childs observes, for authors of this
book it generally was not "a game of one-upmanship, of who can be
more Lutheran or more clever or more learned. … When it came to identifying differences
we were able to deal with them at a level of interchange that was
never antagonistic but always in a quest for the truth. … As a result there was a kind of corrective
that may not have eradicated the differences but eliminated those
that are false and distorting among us" (174). Such a way of
relating, with mutual respect and learning, is itself ethically
significant. This also is undergirded by the realization that each
of our perspectives are limited, not omniscient, and by Luther's
sacramental understanding that we are changed into one another.
Through the activity of the Spirit, God indwells and empowers
 The matter is much more than being civil or tolerant toward
others. It is not merely reflective of what Meilaender claims
"academic culture teaches us to say about morality" in a postmodern
age. The genius of Lutheran theology may cause us to look again at
what is felt to be a tension between "moral substance" and
"reforming dynamic"-a tension present among these authors and
reviewers, as well as in many of the ethical debates of our day.
The fears are that "moral substance" will be static and oppressive
and that a "reforming dynamic" will be devoid of moral substance.
This tension is evident, for example, in ongoing discussions about
the place of the law in Lutheran ethics.
 If the living, dynamic word-as both promise and law-is at
the heart of a Lutheran ethic, the moral "substance" will
inevitably be intertwined with or borne by a reforming "dynamic."
The dynamic of how we relate to one another-including in the heat
of theological disagreements-may convey moral substance more
persuasively than do unchanging divine mandates or ethical
principles. Who is present around the table, and whether their
perspectives and realities make a difference, become matters of
moral substance (justice). Moral substance emerges from how we have
been shaped or formed, and the practices in which we partake.
Together they constitute a way of life that is dynamic and goes
against much of the "moral substance" of this society. The moral
agency of African American Lutherans (see Richard Perry's article)
is but one example of this.
 At the recent Lutheran ethicists gathering, Pastor Lucy
Kolin (Resurrection, Oakland, CA) captured well not only this
tension between "sacred deposit and living Word," but also the
moral import of what this volume seeks to further:
I find hope here for the
Church…that we as members of the Church might be
drawn to trust that honest and faithful conversation, candid and
concrete moral deliberation, wrapped in prayer and in the arms of
the Word, might be the very sort of arena where the Holy Spirit can
do her best work-the arena whose very messiness invites the Spirit
to make connections, to disarm unhealthy and limiting assumptions,
and to draw not just our thought but our very selves together, for
the good of the Church and the well-being of creation.
For JLE reviews of The Promise of Lutheran
Ethics, see the book reviews
Copyright © 1999 dialog. Used with permission.
From dialog, Volume 38, Number 2 (Spring 1999)
© May 2002
Journal of Lutheran Ethics (JLE)
Volume 2, Issue 5